It all started with a gloomy, dark morning in October. There was a sinking feeling in my heart. That I wasn’t doing all that I had set out to do. That I hadn’t traveled enough. So on a whim, I booked a student trip for Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. I didn’t consult my friends in The Hague or my parents back home. I didn’t ask anyone to come along either. Possibly one of the most impulsive decisions I had made in my life. I was yet to see if it was going to pay off.
So on the 13th of November, I set out for Rotterdam, alone and apprehensive. Fortunately, there were other solo women travellers (shout out to Surabhi and Won!) and we decided to explore the cities together with a map, common love for sampling local food and an average sense of direction. As the trip drew to a close, I contemplated going to Prague on my own. Having come this far to Bratislava, I figured that the best opportunity to get to Prague without further delay and cost would have to be now.
So on the last day of the trip, after a sumptuous lunch which involved an immense amount of cheese, I sat in a McDonalds working out the modalities of traveling to Prague. This is in spite of the fact that 1) the weather wasn’t showing much respite and that 2) I had assignments to submit by the next morning, 8.59 am. So I faced the possibility of a) being broke b) failing assignments and c) not having the trip go as per plan.
I booked my hostel, checked the price of a train ticket and set out for the main station. Possibility a) became a certainty but somehow the Universe worked in my favour. I managed to buy a ticket to Prague (Note: The Czech and Slovakian railways websites do not allow PayPal as a means to buy a ticket, so ALWAYS carry sufficient cash). But the train was packed with no place to sit. So I sat on the floor of the train, stressing and second guessing my plan. I dozed off in between and woke up to find an empty seat. Without further delay, I opened my laptop to proofread my assignments. After a while, the lady in the opposite seat asked me if I was a student in the Czech Republic. I answered in the negative and then the conversation veered from traveling to law to world and political affairs. I was happy to leave my assignments midway to engage in a conversation with a fellow traveller. As the train reached a halt in Prague, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways with wishes for safe travel.
It was 11.25 pm and the road to my hostel was dimly lit, isolated. Upon reaching my room, I found out that my roommate was also a solo traveller. What luck! Next day, by 8.58 am, I sent out my assignments and was thus relieved and hassle free. The roommate and I set out to discover Prague with a neighbour. While walking on the streets of Prague and experiencing its sights and smells (cinnamon and sugar, mostly), I began to fall in love with city. The architecture was different from what I had seen in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. The city was alive with the colours of fall. Tourists milled around, sampling chimney bread and watching street musicians. As travel companions, we exchanged stories and anecdotes. Ideas about culture, politics, medicine, food, cities and travel were debated and discussed upon. Notwithstanding all the selfies and touristy things to do, just walking around the city gave me so many answers.
From the Charles Bridge to the spires of the St. Vitus Cathedral and a (very random) bust of Winston Churchill, Prague had so much to offer, including hot chocolate. Café Louvre which boasts of having Frank Kafka and Einstein as patrons serves the best hot chocolate in the world. If you want to sample local food at cheap prices and with an excellent ambience (which includes the chef coming to your table and serving the broth for your soup), it is a must visit. Prague let me find a bit of home as well – via a Bata store in the main square!
The next day i.e. 17th November, happened to be the anniversary for the Velvet Revolution. I was fortunate enough to see the less touristy side of the city with citizens waving the Czech flags in excitement. Even the increased police and military presence in the city (post-Paris) wasn’t a dampener for the locals! The better part of the afternoon was spent in Shooter’s Island which is an island in the middle of the Vltava. It houses a children’s park, benches, sleepy ducks and aggressive swans. At about 3 pm, the sun came out for a brief moment and all the buildings and structures on the other side of the river got reflected in their full glory, some even glimmering. If you think that the Prague Castle is the only area that gives a magnificent shot of the city, you will be surprised to learn that the Shooter’s Island does a good job as well. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city and hours away from home, I found myself with a renewed sense of purpose, a significant dip in pessimism levels and a profound sense of the fact that there are good people in the world.
PS: Thank you to Anastasia and Ruonan for making Prague one of the best travel experiences. Also, a special Thank You to the gentleman at Bratislava hlavná stanica for all the help. You made Prague possible.
About Maulika K Hegde:
Almost a lawyer, art enthusiast and blogger. Satisfying my wanderlust and making my parents broke one country at a time.